By DINA ARÉVALO
Port Isabel-South Padre Press
A sharp, high pitched whistle pierced the air somewhere above my head. I smiled even before I looked up. Though I hadn’t heard it in several months, that sound was one I recognized quite well. It was the call of an osprey.
I looked up and sure enough, there he was perched high above the ground to survey his domain. The mercury may still be high in our thermometers, but the presence of that osprey is as sure a sign that fall is here as anything else.
And what perfect timing he has, too. Just this week school began, the summer tourist season is coming to a close, and our temperatures cooled down ever so slightly for a day or two due to the occasional rain shower. Soon, my one guilty pleasure during autumn, the pumpkin spice latte, will be available at Starbucks again.
Since first hearing that osprey about a week ago it has become a regular presence in my neighborhood in the late afternoon hours. Slowly, other ospreys have begun to join him, as well. Before the cicadas begin their nightly song, the air is now filled with a growing chorus of osprey whistles.
I’ve written before about how much I love ospreys. They’re beautiful birds, and like many Laguna Madre residents, they’re experts at catching fish. In fact, fish make up almost their entire diet, which makes our communities here along the Lower Laguna Madre a perfect place to find them. If you keep an eye out along the shores of the bay or near canals, you’re sure to see one swooping down to the water feet-first and coming up with a fish clenched firmly between its claws.
Once they snag a fish they’ll flap their powerful wings to hoist them high into the air in search of a perch where they can safely eat. It’s quite a macabre show to watch an osprey enjoy its meal after a hunt.
I one time saw an osprey balancing on a telephone wire with one foot while nibbling on a small fish clutched in the other. The only other time I’ve seen such a fantastic display of balance on such a narrow perch was while watching the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team compete on the balance beam these past couple of weeks during the Olympics.
Like many hawks, ospreys enjoy hanging out at some pretty high vantage points, whether they’re just taking in the view, enjoying a meal, or nesting. That tendency means you’ll often have to squint a bit to see them and might not be able to appreciate just how big these majestic birds really are. An osprey’s wingspan can range from 4 feet to nearly 6 feet across.
These birds will hang out with us here for a few months, but most will eventually leave again. In the Americas, they are a migratory species. But ospreys are unique in another way: they don’t just exist in the Americas, they exist on every continent except Antarctica. Only the peregrine falcon has a wider range than the osprey. By the way, if you’re lucky, you might be able to catch a glimpse of one of those this fall, too. There’s a peregrine falcon that is known to frequent the underside of the Causeway. Sometimes he makes an appearance at the Port Isabel Lighthouse or at the SPI Birding Center, too.
I’m glad the ospreys are back, and I’m gladder still that their appearance means fall is here. Now if only fall’s cooler temperatures would get here so I can enjoy that pumpkin spice latte without melting.
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